Newsweek is ending its print edition and transitioning to an all-digital format by the end of 2012, editor Tina Brown announced on Thursday.
The magazine has been in print since 1933. That will end after its Dec. 31 issue. The shuttering of the print edition will inevitably seen as a harbinger of things to come for the wider industry.
The all-digital tablet edition will be called Newsweek Global. it will launch in early 2013 and require a paid subscription.
In a note, Brown wrote that the economics of print had ceased to make sense for the magazine, which merged with her Daily Beast website in 2010. At the time, she had written that the website would "quicken the pace of a great magazine's revival." She also warned that there will be layoffs coming:
In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.
This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism--that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.
Newsweek is produced by a gifted and tireless team of professionals who have been offering brilliant work consistently throughout a tough period of ownership transition and media disruption. Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the U.S. and internationally.
Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night. But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose--and embrace the all-digital future.
Newsweek also published Brown's memo to staff, in which she said there would be a meeting where people could raise their concerns.
"We realize news of a big change like this will be unsettling," the memo read in part. "We wish to reassure you the transition is well planned, extremely mindful of the unavoidable impact on our staff and respectful of our readers, advertisers and business partners."
Capital New York's Joe Pompeo reported that, during the "very somber" meeting, Brown choked up.
The announcement comes after Barry Diller, whose company owns Newsweek, hinted in July that there was an all-digital future in the wings. In June, the family of Sidney Harman -- the late billionaire who bought the magazine for $1, merged it with the Daily Beast and helped bankroll it -- announced that it was withdrawing much of its funding.
The end of the print edition is also the end of Brown's attempt to revitalize the magazine in its original form. Newsweek had seen its profits vanish and its circulation plummet before she took it over. The merger with The Daily Beast did not change that, even as her oft-provocative covers and stories made the magazine a conversation piece in media circles. Circulation has dropped 51 percent in five years.
Of the three major American newsweeklies -- Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report -- only Time has survived in any recognizable form. When 2013 hits, it will be the last title standing in print.
Speaking on "Beast TV" on Thursday, Brown was resolute.
"We really feel that we must embrace the future," she said. "It's really only a question of when at this point in the print industry ... so we decided to take away the when."
Newsweek/Daily Beast CEO Baba Shetty called the move "liberating" and said the magazine's brand was being encumbered by the "form" and "economics" of print.
Brown added that it costs $42 million to print and distribute the magazine.
"We felt the more important choice is to protect the journalism," she said, though she did not specify how many journalists would be let go as part of the transition.
Sure enough, just around the time Brown was speaking, news broke that Peter Boyer — a longtime former New Yorker writer who was poached by Newsweek — was leaving the title for Fox News. It will not be the last such announcement.